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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Independent Risk Takers
Hugh Bollinger

Independent Risk Takers

Sundance Film Festival, 2019 (credit: Sundance Institute)

                  2019 Venue Trailer for the Sundance Film Festival (credit: Sundance Institute)

The Sundance Film Festival has always promoted cutting edge, risky films, and filmmakers. This was especially on display during the 2019 showcase of the independent productions in competition to be premiered for the audiences. The Festival has concluded. The10-day event gathers together filmmakers, audiences, film distributors, and other to the mountains of Utah each January. This year's theme was designated as "Risk Independence" to celebrate the diverse talents, ideas, technology, and creativity available for visual storytelling. Over 50% of the films in competition were produced by women who brought their stories from every continent. Sundance also includes venues for movie music, panel discussions, workshops, and demonstrations of new technology.

               Augmented Reality table, Sundance New Frontier Program (credit: Nightlight Labs)

Since the invention of film, movie makers and photographers have always pushed the envelope in applying new tools to tell their stories. A perfect example was the diversity represented at the New Frontier program. It offered an array of evolving technologies including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), digital animation, and other enhanced visual tools. AR particularly, is experiencing rapid adoption because of its many uses.

Two installations seen demonstrated at the Festival were impressive for their capacity to expand current filmmaking approaches. The Dial, was a murder mystery seen in multiple dimensions created by Nightlight Labs in Glendale, California. It allowed a viewer to participate in solving a mystery by using a handheld, modified smartphone. Individuals walked around the AR visualization table, looked up, down, and into a building, and to even observe activities happening under the table. A great advantage of augmented reality is that visuals can be viewed without needing heavy headsets or goggles. The images seen on the AR c-phone and digital table were clear with the characters, and their dialog, engaging throughout the short film. Likewise, a computer workstation developed by the Burbank start-up AR-Wall showed how an entire city-scape or space station with their interiors could be designed and manipulated to enhance storytelling. Their operational 'walls' allowed indepth visuals, interactive experimentation, and film illusions that can be location-based. This new technology is already being incorporated in various animation projects. The 3D movie, Ready Player One, incorporated AR tools in many of the films' animated scenes.

       The Dial, AR Murder Mystery (credit: Nightlight Labs)               Space station Interiors, AR Design Computer (credit: AR-Wall)

While viewing technology demos at the New Frontier program and elsewhere set up at the Festival, a memory returned from a  Sundance many years earlier. New Frontier wasn't even an established Festival program 30 some years ago. Back then, a small service-style van was seen parked along the side of the main street in Park City. Inside sat two graduate students in computer graphics program at the University of Utah with demo images on their large monitors. Any one could walk up the steps into the van and they would run their digital animations. I asked what their project was called? PIXAR went on to create quite a name for itself.

Expect many more film studios to utilize technology seen displayed at Sundance and to appear in movies in the months and years to come. This is how taking independent risks pays off.


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